Meet “Fried Cornmeal Mush”, a crispy and delicious breakfast food that forms a perfect union of my little family’s American, Italian, Texan and Amish roots.
I have sweet memories of my Grussmommy Barbara Glick-Dienner (who lived in Lancaster County, PA), cutting slices of the cornmeal mush she had prepared the day before, and chilled overnight. She fried them to perfection in her well-seasoned, cast iron skillet, and served the fried cornmeal mush to her family for breakfast. We topped it with Maple Syrup, and enjoyed every bite of the buttery-crisp on the outside, while tasty-soft on the inside, hearty breakfast food.
My mother made this food for my siblings and me, growing up in East Texas. We loved it! Although I always viewed it as an “Amish” food, I learned that Cornmeal Mush was not only an Early American, and Amish standby – it was equally as popular in Southern cooking. There are recipes for Cornmeal Mush from New England, Austin, Texas and a Jewish Cookbook from New York, all dating back to one-hundred years ago or more. The recipe I’m sharing today is actually adapted from the Laura Ingalls Wilder-inspired “Little House Cookbook”, as Cornmeal Mush was also commonly served in Pioneer homes.
“One of the early foods enjoyed by early colonists and settlers to America was corn meal mush. The newcomers learned to make and eat this from the native American Indians. Indians had been grinding corn for centuries making all kinds of dishes.
Hot cereal was known for years in other parts of the world. It went under various names, as porridge, hasty pudding and lobiolly. Thus, during the decades of European settlement of America, mush made from cornmeal became the usual breakfast and supper dish.” – America Civil War History Forums
As I’m married to a wonderful Italian man who also has a rich family food-culture history, I adore Italy’s version of Cornmeal Mush; Polenta. In our house today, my girls love both versions. I enjoyed reading this fascinating article by the New York Times, on the commonalities of America’s Cornmeal Mush, and Italy’s Polenta, where they call Polenta the “Cornmeal Mush with a Little Italian Accent”. We typically prepare our fried version of Polenta in olive oil, while we use butter for fried Cornmeal Mush.
Although Mennonite Community Cookbook’s version of this recipe calls for flour, I used the traditional method from “The Little House Cookbook”, and another cookbook I love called “Wholesome Home Cooking“. They both call for the traditional 4 cups of water to 1 cup of stoneground cornmeal ratio that my mother uses in her kitchen.
So much to say, about a humble little dish! Here’s the recipe-lowdown.
Begin preparations one day in advance, by preparing your Cornmeal Mush. Bring 3 cups of water to a boil, and add salt. In a separate dish, combine additional 1 cup of water with cornmeal, and whisk together until smooth. Slowly add the corn mixture to the water, whisking briskly to keep it smooth.
Simmer over low heat for 20-30 minutes, stirring occasionally.
When cool, remove from pan and slice about 3/8 inches thick.
Your cornmeal-mush is ready to pan-fry!
Coat bottom of cast iron skillet with butter, lard or olive oil.
Fry on both sides until golden brown, and slightly crisp on the outside.
Serve with butter and syrup, with ketchup, or plain. Yum, yum, yum!
- 1 cup cornmeal (preferably organic and stoneground)
- 1 teaspoon sea salt
- 4 cups water
- Bring 3 cups of the water to a boil in a (3 quart or larger) kettle.
- Stir in the salt.
- In a separate bowl, whisk together the remaining 1 cup of water and the cornmeal, till smooth.
- Reduce heat, and slowly add the cornmeal mixture to the hot water, whisking briskly to avoid lumps.
- Increase burner heat and bring back to a boil, stirring constantly.
- Reduce the heat, cover, and simmer for 20-30 minutes. Stirring several times. The cornmeal mush consistency will resemble that of cooked oatmeal.
- To make the Fried Cornmeal Mush, place the mixture in a loaf pan or shallow baking dish.
- Allow to cool for several hours or overnight.
- Slice approximately 3/8 inch thick.
- Coat bottom of a cast iron skillet with butter, lard, or olive oil, and fry on both sides until golden-brown.
Recipe sources: Wholesome Home Cooking, Katie Stoltzfus & Whitmore Printing; The Little House Cookbook, Barbara Walker & Harper Collins Publishers; Mennonite Community Cookbook, Herald Press